All the cat pee smell with none of the cute kitten cuddles
June 12, 2010 6:49 PM   Subscribe

Goddamnit, why does my apartment smell like cat pee? Difficulty: I don't have a cat, and I live in a pets-verboten building. Preliminary research suggests it may be mold?

This is gonna be long, because I want to give all of the info that might help me nail this problem.

I live in a high-ceiling-ed, large-ish 1BR apartment in a very urban part of Boston - in a pretty old apartment building, on the first floor. No pets are allowed in this building. It's what's called a 1 bedroom split, the living room and bedroom and kitchen all have large windows which look out over a relatively high-trafficked alley. I'd guess that the bottom windowsills are about 8 feet from the ground outside. There are some trees out there.

It's been SUPER mega rainy and humid here in Mass. Last weekend I opened the windows on a late, rainy afternoon and was overwhelmed with a cat-uriney smell not long after. It's not unmistakably cat piss. It's one of those smells that any and all around start theorizing over. Maybe a smelly tree? Maybe that giant puddle of water out there in the alley? Maybe college kids pissing against a wall? OH GOD WHAT IS IT.

My boyfriend was over and noticed it as well. I assumed it was outside in the alley, but now I've found that it wafts in and out pretty regularly. I'd say every two hours or so, the smell becomes very strong, and then dissapates for a while, and then comes back - it's making me crazy!

When I go out into the alley I don't really smell it. I'm pretty sure it's in my apartment, but I wouldn't bet all my money on it. I can't find the source, but it's stronger in my hallway and in my living room around the windows. I think. It's pervasive and I can't find a "YEP, THAT'S IT!" place it might be coming from.

It gets worse when it's damp or rainy, but that's been practically every day out here.

My boyfriend suggested mold. I'm also kind of scared that it's mold. I don't SEE any mold, but my apartment seems kinda - soggy in a way, but I can't point to anything in particular. There are some water stains above one of the window sills in the living room, and when I first moved here (in January of this year), there was a small leak coming through the tops of the window sills in my kitchen, but those haven't returned even in this mega-rainy season.

I've called the landlord earlier today, but haven't heard back yet.

So, there's the tl;dr - in short, what I'm wondering is:

1.) Does mold have a cat-urine smell? I've googled and found some stuff about black mold (btw OH MY GOD BLACK MOLD IS SO SCARY), but nothing seems to be conclusive.

2.) Is there something else it could be, and I'm just totally freaking out?

3.) I have been getting colds and feeling fatigued, but it's just as likely stress as anything else.

4.) Oh god, if it is hidden, stinky, lurking mold, what's going to happen?

I've called the landlord, but have not yet heard back. Can you, oh wise and brave mefi, help me diagnose this stink, and make a plan if the worst case scenario comes to be?
posted by pazazygeek to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I was a houseguest in a cat-free home, and there seemed to be an inexplicable cat-urine smell in the bathroom.

It turned out that it was a clean-looking but damp handtowel that needed to be hung outside in the sunshine.

I hung it out in the sun for 12 hours (without laundering, my host didn't have a washing machine) and the smell dissappeared completely.

My guess would be some sort of microbes were happily breeding on the damp handtowel, and the heat and UV light killed them.

So my first thought would be - launder all your clothes, towels, and sheets and hang them to dry in the sun, and see if that gets rid of it.
posted by Year of meteors at 6:54 PM on June 12, 2010

Boxwood bushes have a decidedly cat-pee-like odor, so if the smell is especially strong near your windows, it could be that. I drive past a house in my town in a Greater Boston suburb that has these bushes, and I can smell them even with my car windows closed.
posted by briank at 6:57 PM on June 12, 2010

Can you not track down the source? My first thought is that a male alley cat is doing his rounds an marking somewhere near your window. I suppose a lot of rain would mean lots of re-marking.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:58 PM on June 12, 2010

I was going to suggest the bushes also. I have some of those outside my window, and they seriously smell like nineteen cats have peed there.
posted by OolooKitty at 7:01 PM on June 12, 2010

I used to live in an apartment where pets were not allowed. I got a cat anyway. Hey, I was lonely!

My point is, that perhaps the previous tenants (or a current neighbor) had a cat that peed. That smell is hard to get out and rears its ugly head when it's wet and damp out.

I live in a house now. The previous owners had two big dogs. Before we moved in we had the carpets professionally cleaned. Still, whenever it's rainy or humid out, the dog stink comes out. It's awful. Short of getting rid of our carpets I don't think we'll ever get rid of the smell.

I know nothing about mold.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:01 PM on June 12, 2010

Juniper bushes give off a strong and authentic cat pee odor, too. I wrongly accused our cats for several weeks before discovering the stink source was a ground juniper planted under our bedroom window.
posted by jamaro at 7:05 PM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's the trees. Once the flowers go the smell will also go.
posted by fshgrl at 7:13 PM on June 12, 2010

There might have been previous tenants with a cat, even in the distant past, because nothing brings long-forgotten smells out in the open like hot humid weather, which you said you're experiencing.

Also, any possibility one of your neighbors might be harboring a meth lab? Active meth labs smell exactly like rancid cat pee.
posted by amyms at 7:21 PM on June 12, 2010

Eucalyptus can also smell like cat pee as well. I see you are in Los Angeles, and the Marine Layer will amplify residual odors.

The neighborhood I live in has both humans who pee anywhere and feral cats that mark my door. No pets, plenty of piss odor.
posted by effluvia at 7:26 PM on June 12, 2010

Weird suggestion: does your building have natural gas? If so, you might have a gas leak. Sometimes the additive (to help you smell it) smells like cat pee, and let me tell you, I was confused until I figured *that* out.

I don't want to cause alarm, but it's worth looking into. Might also explain the colds and fatigue.
posted by blisterpack at 7:33 PM on June 12, 2010

Is there carpet? That can certainly hold cat-pee-smelling mould bacteria. Can you afford a dehumidifier? If it's mould, the smell will certainly be lessened significantly by the use of a dehumidifier. Removal of the carpet will get rid of it altogether.
posted by TAP at 7:36 PM on June 12, 2010

If you're thinking, as previous posters commented, that a previous tenant may have had a cat in the unit, I wonder if the blacklight trick would help any? Not sure if the cat pee will still luminesce after many cleanings, but ... hey, if you've got one handy, can't hurt.
posted by sldownard at 8:35 PM on June 12, 2010

I would also call the gas company to investigate a possible gas leak. I experienced this: a smell like rotten eggs coming and going plus regular bouts of dizziness and fatigue. It may not be your building but it may be nearby.
posted by wobh at 8:38 PM on June 12, 2010

Arborvitae can also smell a lot like cat pee.
posted by peep at 9:58 PM on June 12, 2010

I have a pair of shoes (cheap Nike, plastic) that smell of cat pee after use. Just throwing that out there as a "there may be some really weird explanation".
posted by ClarissaWAM at 4:23 AM on June 13, 2010

The obvious explanation is that a cat pissed in the alley.

Unless you can narrow down where the smell is coming from.

(Turn on a gas stove burner and waft the gas smell toward your nose before it lights to see what gas smells like. I doubt you are mistaking gas for cat.)
posted by gjc at 4:46 AM on June 13, 2010

The first thing I thought was there's a meth lab in the basement.
posted by Philby at 7:11 AM on June 13, 2010

I would bet money that a previous tenant had a cat that peed in your apartment. Notify your landlord. Do it in writing if he does not call you back (and even if he does). The fact that it intensifies when it is damp pretty much guarantees a cat peed in your place and they did not use proper measures to correct it. If it is carpeted, they have to take up the carpet, take up the pad, TREAT the base floor with enzymes and KILLZ paint (or replace flooring and new carpet). Until that is done it will always smell when it rains. Complain.
posted by naplesyellow at 9:17 AM on June 13, 2010

I'm following up!

I called my landlord, but I didn't hear back. That's the bad news.

The good news is, the smell has completely gone away. I can only surmise that some nefarious alley cat had marked all up in the alley behind my house, and has since moved on to greener pastures. But it appears that mold is not the culprit!
posted by pazazygeek at 3:46 PM on July 13, 2010

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